Over the summer, my mother hurt her knee and, for a few weeks, she wasn’t able to walk. A difficult task for someone living in a second-floor apartment and a keen desire to make the most of every hour of the day!
During the healing process, should would periodically observe that an injury in your upper body is doable and livable. An injury in your legs or ankles? You can’t go anywhere or do anything. To quote Captain Obvious, your feet are your foundation.
Even in yoga and sports, we don’t always give our feet enough attention. Whether it’s not quite following your teacher’s cue to “root all four corners of your feet” into the ground during mountain pose or a subtle misplacement of your feet during an Olympic lift, you’ll feel the imperfections in your foundation in the long run.
Outside of yoga and sports, keeping your feet cramped in tight shoes or heels, not walking enough, and not stretching can also lead to issues in the future. Not to mention, giving your feet and ankles some extra love and care just plain ol’ feels good. So here are a few movements I’d recommend incorporating into any regular stretching and mobility routines you may have to keep your hooves happy:
Toe squat is a Yin Yoga pose, which is a school of yoga that tends to focus on fewer poses that are held for much, much longer than what you see in a typical Vinyasa class, for example. As such, the poses allow you to get deeper into the fascia and connective tissue.
While it looks like a very simple pose, it’s far from it. It’s rare for us to naturally stretch the arches of our feet, so it’s common to carry a fair amount of tension there. By sitting on top of your flexed feet, not only are you stretching the arch, but you’re also putting added tension on your feet with your own body weight.
It’s an extremely effective pose for stretching out your feet and ankles, but it can feel intense at first. (I could barely stand it the first time I tried it.) I’d recommend taking it slowly if you’ve never done this pose before, i.e. toe squat for two breaths, rest for four, and so on.
(Or “overstepping dragon.”) Dragon pose, by default, targets your hip flexors and quads on the leg that is fully extended. In this variation, it also helps to increate ankle flexion in the front of your foot by carefully drawing your knee over your ankle.
I know, I know, everyone always says to stack your knee over your ankle. In general, for the vast majority of movements that you’re doing in the gym or in the studio, that’s correct. However, in this case, it’s okay to break the rule so as to provide yourself with extra mobility and stretching in a controlled condition.
In other words, because you have the support of your hands and legs in this position, you can control how far and how quickly you bring your knee over your ankle, while still rooting your heel into the ground.
Goddess begins with both feet set wide apart and your feet pointing out at about a 45º angle. As you bend your legs, in this case, you do want to keep your knees over your toes. In this position alone, Goddess helps to stretch your adductor muscles and strengthen your trunk.
In this variation, once stable, you can start to rise up onto the balls of your feet. I like to incorporate movement into this pose, by bringing my heels up off the ground, lowering them back down slowly, and then rising again. This variation helps to strengthen both your calves and ankles, while also building better balance. You’ll see what I mean when you try 😉
Sometimes the simplest poses are the most difficult, right? In chair pose, especially when you hold it for five or more breaths, the burn starts to set in and it’s easy to start to slack – rounding in your shoulders, losing the tightness in your back, and letting your knees cave in.
You can start with your feet touching or hip-distance apart in chair pose, depending on whichever feels better for you. I tend to prefer to keep my feet hip distance apart since it helps me to consciously focus on the position of my knees and thighs, which tends to be a weakness of mine.
A large component of chair pose is the positioning of your feet and where your weight is placed. As you sit your hips back, focus on keeping the majority of your weight in your heels – you can even wiggle your toes a little to help shift the weight back if you’re struggling to do so. While in the pose, look down at your knees to make sure they’re pointing between your big toe and second toe. If they’re not, tighten your glutes slightly to see if that corrects the positioning for you.
All balance poses require a good, solid connection with your feet. Without it, it’s impossible to evenly distribute the weight between your entire foot so that you have a firm foundation for you to balance on.
To enter into tree pose, you need to start with a good mountain pose. Standing with feet hip-distance apart, feel your knees stacking over your ankles, your hips stacking over your knees, and your core long and strong. Slowly begin to shift your weight into one foot and, as you do so, engage your core to help provide extra control and stability before your start to lift your other foot off of the floor.
Start by placing your foot at your ankle and then, once you’ve found your balance, lift it up to your calf. Finally, if it feels good for you, lift your foot all the way up to your inner thigh, so that your foot is pressing into your standing leg and vice verse. Do note that you never want to place your foot on the outside of your knee – because of the pressure your foot provides, it can push your knee in a lateral direction, which is never ideal.
Stay here for as long as you’d like or can. If you fall out, don’t worry. It takes time to build balance and it is extremely common for one side to feel different from the other. We all have imbalances and stretching, mobility, and strength is exactly what you need to correct those!
Thanks Karen for the inspiration! ❤️